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The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
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The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010)

by Edmund de Waal

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (80)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Danish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  All languages (87)
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
Recommended by Chris Wyndham
  decore | Sep 6, 2014 |
Fascinating story of a family's collection of netsuke. Admittedly not as interesting to those not interested in Japanese culture or the cultural history of Japonisme, but still compelling in parts, including the Nazi's persecution of the wealthy. ( )
  BondLamberty | Jul 26, 2014 |
A fascinating adventure through several generations about netsuke.
  Annabel1954 | Jul 26, 2014 |
Too much art history. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 29, 2014 |
Six-word review: Family saga mirrors recent European history.

Extended review:

I've given a rare five-star rating to The Hare with Amber Eyes, a rich, engaging, moving narrative that is at once a family chronicle and a cultural and political history of our times.

Nonfiction works seldom get more than four stars from me because they rarely have the literary quality that places them in my top ranks. To rate five stars, a novel has to blow me away. This does not mean that I think it's flawless; in fact, it can have plain flaws and still earn a 5 or a 4½. But in addition to warranting superlatives in the basic elements of character, plot, setting, theme, and literary style, it has to show me an ineffable quality of artistry that sets it apart--an innate magnificence that can't be reduced to numbers or items on a checklist.

It's all but impossible for a work of nonfiction to do this, although there are always a few that seem remarkable enough to me to set and even exceed their own standards.

The Hare with Amber Eyes possesses that literary quality. I found it affecting, touching, emotionally laden, fraught, understated, poignant. It exhibits both a broad scope and a fine focus. The author speaks in deft, evocative, and occasionally lyrical prose, reflecting an artist's eye for proportion, relationship, composition, context, juxtaposition, and the power of a silent statement. The language evinces not only the author's intellectual confidence but also his confidence in the reader, who is presumed to be both educated and cultivated. A shared body of knowledge, an understanding of terminology, and a familiarity with certain names are taken for granted; if we're not quite up to the author's use of French or mention of known figures in the arts, we can quietly Google them while taking de Waal's presumptions as a compliment.

The structure of the book follows from the author's initial intent to recount the history of a family-owned collection of netsuke, small, delicately carved Japanese ornaments acquired during the 19th-century rage in Europe for all things Japanese. He explains the 1870s craze in part by the fact that its foreignness put enthusiasts on an equal footing: "For with Japanese art there was an exhilarating lack of connoisseurship, none of the enmeshed knowledge of art historians to confound your immediate responses, your intuitions." (page 49)

Organizing a personal narrative around a concrete object entailed not only reconstructing a history from family documents, photographs, and lore but executing a skillful blend of objective historical facts and an artist's imagination. Late in the narrative (page 342), De Waal writes: "I no longer know if this book is about my family, or memory, or myself, or is still a book about small Japanese things."

Indeed, the scale of these exquisite miniatures, of which the hare with amber eyes is one, invites close examination. Their smallness creates a feeling of intimacy that permeates the book. Somehow the author conveys a sense of speaking privately about private things rather than of addressing a global audience.

Yet the netsuke are not the central image of the book. The central image is the vitrine.

A vitrine is a glass display case (vitre: pane of glass), a cabinet that consists of transparent windows and doors. Says de Waal (page 66): "But the vitrine--as opposed to the museum's case--is for opening. And that opening glass door and the moment of looking, then choosing, and then reaching in and then picking up is a moment of seduction, an encounter between a hand and an object that is electric." The visual becomes tactile, and in that instant it also becomes personal.

The act of looking and actively seeing drives the book. In all forms, page after page, we have windows, glass, prospects, views, framing, panoramas, inventories, images, paintings, sculptures, art, photographs, perspectives. It is this sensory engagement of the reader that makes the reader not so much a consumer of words as a sharer of visions. Those visions, laden with the author's own memory and palpable ties to a lost way of life, seem almost to plant memories in the mind of the reader and draw out the same sense of pride and loss, rooted in whatever parallels have meaning to us.

In my estimation, the greatest shortcoming of this work is the lack of an index. I would have found it helpful at many points to be able to refer back to names, dates, and places to help me retain a sense of the manifold threads and connections that run through the narrative. I would also have welcomed many more photographs.

If you have read the book, you might also enjoy this talk given by the author at the Palace Ephrussi in Vienna where so much of the story takes place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8wqJINrGj0 ( )
  Meredy | Jun 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
What happened to the hare with amber eyes, and the carved medlar that almost felt as if it might squish when handled, after their return from Japan? De Waal bought them a secondhand vitrine from the V&A and set it up in his London house, its door unlocked so his own children could play with its contents. "Objects have always been . . . stolen, retrieved and lost. It is how you tell their stories that matters." He has told their story wonderfully. Oh, and this is a beautiful and unusual book, as a physical object. Somebody really cared.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edmund de Waalprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boraso, MarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cohen, MarceloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hilzensauer, BrigitteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnová, LucieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lempens, WillekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miró, CarlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prosperi, CarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rugstad, ChristianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sasada, MasakoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'Even when one is no longer attached to things, it's still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn't grasp...Well, now that I'm a little too weary to live with other people, these old feelings, so personal and individual, that I had in the past, seem to me - it's a mania for all collectors - very precious. I open my heart to myself like a sort of vitrine, and examine one by one all those love affairs of which the world can know nothing. And of this collection to which I'm now much more attached than to my others, I say to myself, rather as Mazarin said of his books, but in fact without the least distress, that it will be very tiresome to have to leave it at all.'
Charles Swann.

Marcel Proust, 'Cities of the Plain'.
Dedication
For Ben, Matthew and Anna
and for my father.
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In 1991 I was given a two-year scholarship by a Japanese foundation.
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (5)

Book description
Contents:

Paris 1871-1899 -- Vienna 1899-1938 -- Vienna Kövecses, Tunbridge Wells, Vienna 1938-1947 -- Tokyo 1947-2001 -- Tokyo, Odessa, London 2001-2009.
Haiku summary
Mansions, power, art / Exile, stolen dignity / Netsuke bear witness (LynnB)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312569378, Paperback)

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: At the heart of Edmund de Waal's strange and graceful family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes, is a one-of-a-kind inherited collection of ornamental Japanese carvings known as netsuke. The netsuke are tiny and tactile--they sit in the palm of your hand--and de Waal is drawn to them as "small, tough explosions of exactitude." He's also drawn to the story behind them, and for years he put aside his own work as a world-renowned potter and curator to uncover the rich and tragic family history of which the carvings are one of the few concrete legacies. De Waal's family was the Ephrussis, wealthy Jewish grain traders who branched out from Russia across the capitals of Europe before seeing their empire destroyed by the Nazis. Beginning with his art connoisseur ancestor Charles (a model for Proust's Swann), who acquired the netsuke during the European rage for Japonisme, de Waal traces the collection from Japan to Europe--where they were saved from the brutal bureaucracy of the Nazi Anschluss in the pockets of a family servant--and back to Japan and Europe again. Throughout, he writes with a tough, funny, and elegant attention to detail and personality that does full justice to the exactitude of the little carvings that first roused his curiosity. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:51 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Traces the parallel stories of nineteenth-century art patron Charles Ephrussi and his unique collection of 360 miniature netsuke Japanese ivory carvings, documenting Ephrussi's relationship with Marcel Proust and the impact of the Holocaust on his cosmopolitan family.… (more)

» see all 8 descriptions

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